Rumo and his miraculous.., p.29
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       Rumo: And His Miraculous Adventures, p.29

           Walter Moers
 

  ‘I’m never scared,’ Rumo replied hoarsely.

  ‘Oho,’ said Rala, imitating his croak. ‘So you’re never scared, eh?’

  A Yeti bent over the car and secured the door.

  ‘In the event of a fatality during the ride,’ he said darkly, ‘kindly don’t throw the corpse out of the car. The Ghouls would eat it and they’re supposed to be on a diet.’

  Urs and Rala tittered. Rumo tried to join in, but his contorted facial muscles refused to relax into a smile. He looked as if he might throw up at any moment.

  ‘Have a good scare!’ The Yeti gave them a wave as the car glided past him into the gloom beyond the swing door. ‘And never forget: life is more horrific than death!’

  Darkness engulfed them. All that could be heard was the rattle of the car and the distant screams of other passengers. Rumo tried to ignore the alarming scents, but he couldn’t: there seemed to be a lot of malign spirits lurking in the gloom. A thin, plaintive cry rang out. It was only just audible, like a final plea for help from someone buried alive.

  ‘Ooh!’ Rala exclaimed, feigning terror. She nestled still closer to Rumo. A miniature flat car came clanking out of the darkness. On it was the dimly illuminated figure of a dead dwarf sitting in a tub of congealed blood.

  As they passed it, Rumo noticed a cobweb clinging to the head of the desiccated corpse and a rent in the neck from which sawdust was escaping. Rivulets of blood were trickling down the figure’s chest and into the tub.

  The Hedgewitch

  The car stopped abruptly. With a thunderclap the ground ahead of them opened. There was a shellburst of red and yellow paper streamers, a cloud of green vapour arose and, when it dispersed, they were confronted by a gigantic Hedgewitch. She wore a robe of autumn leaves, her limbs were thin, gnarled branches and two will-o’-the-wisps glimmered in the empty eye sockets in her wooden skull. Her lower jaw dropped open and released a white moth into the darkness. A hot wind swirled round the car as the witch reached for Rala’s face with her pointed, thorny fingers. Rala clung so tightly to Rumo that he could feel almost the whole of her body against his – the most thrilling sensation he’d ever experienced.

  ‘I’m going to faint,’ he thought with a frisson of ecstasy.

  But he remained conscious. There was another clap of thunder and the witch vanished. Rala continued to hang on tight. ‘Was she real?’ she asked.

  ‘Yes,’ said Urs. ‘Real but stuffed.’

  The witch had, in fact, been the ride’s pièce de résistance. Like all ghost trains, this one had promised more than it delivered. The desiccated corpses that danced around in the flickering light may have been real, but the malign spirits Rumo had sensed were probably just the ghost train’s staff of down-at-heel Bluddums and other riff-raff, who filled the tunnels with spooky cries and acted as ghosts in ill-draped bed sheets.

  Rumo could scarcely stand when he climbed out of the car. His knees were knocking, he was trembling all over, and his fur was glistening with perspiration.

  ‘The witch was good,’ said Urs, ‘but the rest …’

  ‘So you don’t know the meaning of fear, eh?’ Rala said to Rumo. She laughed, but her laughter sounded friendly and unmalicious.

  Outside in the milling crowd Rumo tried desperately to think of some snappy retort, but before he could do so Rala had been spotted by someone. It was Rolv, who was standing on the other side of the street with Balla, Olek and a girl whom Rumo recognised from school. Rolv waved. Rala left Rumo’s side without a word, elbowed her way through the throng and threw her arms round Rolv’s neck.

  Rumo gasped. Since when had they been so friendly? There! Rala had given Rolv a kiss on the cheek! The ground seemed to yawn at his feet. Then a party of roistering fair goers surged past, hiding Rolv, Rala and the others from view, and they were gone.

  ‘Girls,’ Urs said with a shrug. ‘You never know where you are with them.’

  Rumo shut his eyes and tried to make out the Silver Thread, but his mental images were so chaotic he might have been peering into a kaleidoscope. Smouldering herbs, rank sweat and crude smells of all kinds combined to form such a rotating mishmash of colours that he hurriedly opened his eyes again. If he’d had to rely for guidance on his nose alone, he would have blundered into the nearest tent pole.

  ‘Come on, we haven’t seen anything yet!’

  Rumo plodded sullenly along in Urs’s wake. How this din was getting on his nerves! The vulgar music! The stench! Why had Rala thrown herself into the arms of that repulsive creature? Why had she done so in front of everyone? Why in front of him? How had that little terrier become so pally with her? What was he himself doing in this lunatic asylum of a fairground? He longed to go home.

  ‘Hey, you!’ yelled a voice in Rumo’s sensitive ears. A gaunt and peculiarly hideous black-robed figure had planted itself in front of him and was pointing at him accusingly with a pencil-thin forefinger.

  ‘Yes, you!’

  The Ugglies

  Rumo and Urs had reached the intersection of two tent-lined avenues. Three female figures attired in black were dancing round a big iron cauldron into which they periodically tossed small, squeaking creatures. It was one of them who had barred Rumo’s path. Most of the fairgoers steered well clear of this spectacle.

  ‘Ugglies,’ Urs whispered. ‘Don’t let them foist a prophecy on you.’

  ‘You!’ cried the tallest of the Ugglies, levelling her long finger at Rumo. ‘Listen to me! I’m the Uggly Posko!’

  Urs tugged at Rumo’s sleeve, but he was rooted to the spot.

  ‘You! You are destined to see in the dark and kill the one-eyed giants!’

  ‘I already did,’ Rumo said quietly.

  ‘Eh, what?’ said the Uggly. ‘Ah yes, that was in the past. All this noise is spoiling my concentration.’

  Rumo was amazed. Smyke was the only one who knew anything about him and Roaming Rock.

  ‘Did you really?’ asked Urs. ‘Kill some one-eyed giants, I mean?’

  ‘Concentration be damned!’ cried another of the Ugglies, who was short and fat. ‘You’ve never managed to prophesy about anything except the past, Posko! Come here, youngster, I’m the Uggly Krasko! I can tell you the future. You’ll walk along streets of solid gold, and health and wealth will be your constant companions throughout a long, happy life! Permit me to fill in the details!’

  ‘You lying devil!’ shouted the third Uggly. ‘Beware of her, youngster, she’ll only tell you what you want to hear! Consult me, the Uggly Bisko! I can predict the only important thing in your life: whether or not you’ll win your Silver Thread. That’s what matters, isn’t it? I know you Wolpertings!’

  Rumo pricked up his ears at this. He got out his purse.

  Urs took his arm. ‘Put it away! They’ll only cheat you.’

  ‘Isn’t that what fairs are for?’

  A dwarf with a placard on his chest suddenly appeared on the scene.

  Nightingale is everywhere

  ‘Enough of this oracular guesswork!’ he yelled. ‘Enough of this disreputable hocus-pocus! Consult Professor Abdullah Nightingale’s chest-of-drawers oracle in the Star Tent! Only that will provide you with scientifically attested prophecies! Absolutely reliable predictions on a purely empirical basis! No commercialism involved! Admission free!’

  The tall Uggly aimed a kick at the dwarf, who nimbly dodged it and disappeared into the crowd. ‘Enough of this oracular guesswork!’ he croaked again. Then his voice was drowned by the general tumult. Urs took advantage of the rumpus to drag Rumo away.

  ‘Hey, but I was going to—’

  ‘Tell me, what was all that about one-eyed giants, et cetera?’

  ‘Nothing special.’

  ‘Nothing special? Come on now!’

  A noisy crowd of revellers came dancing along the street towards them: dwarfs, gnomes, a few Bluddums, several Maenads and Bertts, dozens of Yetis, all in shabby costumes and clearly the worse for drink. They were waving little flags and wooden rattles,
and splashing passers-by with the contents of huge pitchers of beer. Unprepared for such an onslaught, Urs and Rumo were borne along by them. It wasn’t until they’d been swept past a few dozen booths that they managed to extricate themselves from the mob. Panting hard, they took stock of their surroundings.

  A prize-fighting tent run by Bluddums.

  A booth where blood could be pawned.

  A shadow theatre.

  A coconut shy.

  A black tent adorned with twinkling stars. The inconspicuous sign above the entrance read:

  Professor Abdullah Nightingale’s

  Zamonian Chest-of-Drawers Oracle.

  Strictly scientific predictions.

  None of your usual fairground hocus-pocus.

  Finally, an unmarked red tent from whose golden-domed roof dense black smoke was ascending into the sky.

  ‘What’s that red tent? Is it on fire?’

  The phogar dealer

  Urs whispered conspiratorially in Rumo’s ear. ‘That’s a phogar tent, my friend. Nothing for sensitive souls.’

  Phogars? Smyke had enthused about them occasionally, Rumo recalled.

  ‘They aren’t allowed to advertise. Atlantean health regulations prohibit it, but they can’t prevent lungless people from having a smoke.’

  ‘But we’ve got lungs.’

  ‘What makes you so sure? Can you see inside yourself? Perhaps you’re one of nature’s miracles. You’ll never know if you don’t try one.’ Urs hustled Rumo towards the entrance of the phogar tent. ‘I’ve always wanted to try a phogar. Come on, I’ll stand you one.’

  The phogar dealer, an uncouth Turniphead in an ill-fitting turban, eyed them suspiciously. ‘Is this your first phogar? I don’t want any trouble with the Atlantean health ministry.’

  ‘I was smoking phogars before these ridiculous laws existed,’ Urs declared with surprising self-assurance. ‘And my brother here doesn’t even have one lung – a congenital defect. Two phogars, please.’

  The phogar dealer looked past them to see if he could spot any Atlantean health inspectors in the crowd. Then he beckoned them into the tent. ‘You must be one of nature’s miracles,’ he said, handing Urs the phogars. ‘That’ll be four pyras.’

  Rumo’s first puff seemed to fill his lungs with boiling fog. He tried to expel the smoke at once, but his throat felt as if it were in a noose. Panic-stricken, he looked at Urs, who was sitting opposite him with his back propped against the wall of the tent. He, too, had lowered his phogar after the first puff. His body looked like a candle left too close to a hot stove and his face was melting like butter in the sun. He seemed to be dissolving completely.

  Was that the effect of Urs’s phogar or his own? Rumo would have liked to ask him, but he couldn’t speak, let alone breathe. His panic intensified. Perhaps some oxygen would help.

  He staggered past the phogar dealer and made for the entrance, fighting for breath.

  ‘So you aren’t one of nature’s miracles after all, eh?’ the Turniphead said unfeelingly. ‘You can’t force it, youngster. The smoke will either exit of its own accord or not at all. The worst thing is to exert pressure. Just don’t breathe!’

  Rumo tottered along the avenue. Noises, sights, smells – everything became amalgamated into a vortex that whirled around him. Dwarfs wearing sandwich-boards cried their wares:

  ‘Roll up, roll up! Discuss Florinthian torturers’ techniques with the Talking Gallows! Age-old folkloric information humorously imparted!’

  ‘Rice-grain literature! Rice-grain literature! Whole novels inscribed by Bonsai Mites on grains of creamed rice! Hundreds of titles in stock!’

  ‘Walk up, walk up! See Fredda the horrible, hairless Alpine Imp. Even the thickest-skinned can scarcely endure the sight! Get the heeby-jeebies or your money back!’

  Rumo tottered on through the jostling fairgoers. Was that Rala drifting past? Rolv? Balla and Olek? Were they laughing at him? The smoke rampaged around his chest and rattled his ribs like a wild beast in a cage.

  He bumped into someone he could cling to for support. Then he vomited, retching up everything inside him: his breakfast, the mouse bladders, the phogar smoke.

  ‘Hey!’ The voice seemed to come from very far away. ‘My jacket!’

  Rumo passed out.

  ‘Phogars only agree with Shark Grubs, and I wouldn’t advise even them In the Star Tent to smoke one. Are you a Shark Grub? No. Are you an idiot? Yes.’

  Who had said that? It was pitch-black.

  ‘My lovely jacket – ruined, in all probability. Mouse bladders! Greasy, unwholesome things, almost worthless from the nutritional point of view. That plus the phogar smoke. A disastrous combination.’

  Where was he? Lying on the ground, apparently. Rumo raised his head.

  ‘Hello?’ he said feebly. ‘Anyone there?’

  Two lights went on in the darkness. No, not lights, they were eyes. Huge, luminous yellow eyes. Was he dreaming?

  ‘No, you aren’t dreaming,’ the voice said rather curtly. ‘That’s what a Nocturnomath’s eyes look like in the dark. And yes, I’m something of a mind-reader. As for the gap in your memory, you smoked a phogar, suffered a temporary collapse of the lungs and puked over my jacket. Now you’re in my Star Tent. More precisely, in Professor Abdullah Nightingale’s Incorruptible Chest-of-Drawers Oracle. Admission free, but I ought to claim compensation for the jacket. Would you like a little light?’

  A match flared and a candle was lit. Rumo could see the Nocturnomath better now. He differed in appearance from Professor Kolibri. There were some strange excrescences protruding from his head and he looked older. But in other respects: the same puny physique, the same wrinkled face, the same huge, glowing eyes.

  ‘What you call “excrescences” are my external brains. I don’t like to brag, but I possess seven brains.’ The gnome gave a little self-deprecating cough.

  It was silent. Amazing how little of the fairground din penetrated the tent. None at all, in fact.

  ‘This tent is made of noise-absorbent silk obtained from deaf silkworms, an invention that could make me another fortune if I went into mass production. It’s the thickness of a fingernail, but an entire brass band could play in here and you wouldn’t hear a single note outside. The same thing applies in reverse, of course. You’ve no idea the noises the material emits when I give it its monthly whacking with a carpet beater.’

  In the middle of the tent, as far as Rumo could make out, stood a chest of drawers. It was absolutely plain and made of dark, almost black, wood. He debated whether to mention that he’d heard of Nightingale from Professor Kolibri. Rather than complicate matters unnecessarily, he decided not to.

  ‘My name is Rumo,’ he said instead. ‘Rumo of Zamonia.’

  ‘Like the card game? How original. I’ve played a few games of rumo myself. It was in that gambler’s paradise called—’

  Rumo stood up. He yearned to go home. ‘Well, many thanks for your hospitality. Where’s the exit?’ In spite of the candle, it was still so dark that all he could see was the chest of drawers.

  ‘Yes, it’s pretty dark in here,’ said the professor. ‘But there are miracles that can only occur in the dark.’

  ‘Where’s the exit, please?’

  ‘You don’t want to try out my oracle?’

  ‘Er, to be honest: no. I’m not feeling too good and I’ve had it up to here with this fairground hocus-pocus.’

  Nightingale’s eyes flashed and something inside his head crackled ominously. ‘Hocus-pocus?’ he hissed. ‘This isn’t hocus-pocus, it’s scientific exactitude!’

  ‘I’m sure it is, but …’

  Accusingly, Nightingale held his soiled jacket to the candlelight. The sight was so nauseating that Rumo heaved despite himself.

  ‘Sit down on that chair.’

  Rumo blinked. Yes, there was a chair behind him. He sat down. ‘All right, if it won’t take long.’

  ‘No, no, it’s over in a flash. You open a drawer, that’s all.’
r />   ‘Very well.’

  ‘I’ll explain the whole thing. Shall I quickly infect you with the information?’ Nightingale approached with his forefinger levelled at Rumo’s ear.

  Rumo shuddered, involuntarily remembering the Kolibri–Smyke episode. ‘No,’ he said, I’d rather not.’

  Nightingale withdrew his finger, looking disappointed. ‘In that case it’s the slow and laborious way. Would you like a detailed exposition or the short version?’

  Rumo groaned faintly and clutched his head. ‘The short version, please.’

  ‘Right, we’ll skip the theoretical aspect and spare ourselves the scientific minutiae. All you need to know is this: That chest of drawers there, which you probably assume to be made of wood, consists of highly concentrated darkness – darkness dating from a time when time did not exist. It’s the only material in the universe – if material it may be called! – that is free from the shackles of time and capable of summoning up the future. If you ask me how I managed to—’

  Rumo gave another groan.

  ‘All right, no details, just the crux of the matter. I’m not interested in foretelling the future, to be honest. That’s just an amusing by-product of my invention. No, what interests me is the effect on people of knowing their own future. In other words, how much future they can endure. At the very least, it will confirm my theory that no existing Zamonian life form – Nocturnomaths excepted, of course – can really bear to know its own future. Are you prepared to help me discover the truth, Card Game?’

  ‘My name is Rumo.’

  ‘Sorry, I got a trifle mixed up.’ Nightingale’s brains crackled again. ‘It’s quite simple. You must think of the name of someone whose future you want to know. If you want to see your own future, simply think of your own name. Then the drawer bearing the first letter of your name will open and you can look inside. There won’t be all that much to see – just a glimpse, that’s all. Then the drawer will close again and that’ll be that.’

 

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